Keepin' It Weird

In Zach's original production 'Keepin' It Weird,' Dave Steakley displays examples of Austin weirdness as lovable freaks in self-referential spectacle

Arts Review

Keepin' It Weird

Zachary Scott Theatre Center Kleberg Stage, through Nov. 14

Running time: 2 hrs, 50 min

Since the campaign for "weirdness" inundated the local market, it's been easy to become jaded about weirdness having an inexplicable label of chic. Who fits the culturally coded adjective? In Dave Steakley's massive production Keepin' It Weird, the Zachary Scott Theatre Center artistic director adopts examples of weirdness and displays them as lovable freaks in self-referential spectacle. The "self" is the body and spirit of a city that has undergone drastic changes over the past 30 years. How can a place speak to us? Oftentimes through landscape and sky, but in this case, through the quasi-ethnography of Austin residents as embodied by local actors.

If you haven't seen the show, I'd suggest you go in a group and perhaps a little tossed. The three acts of nostalgic dialogue mixed with interludes of quirky movement are a mountainous feast of theatrical mélange. It's best just to relax and let it ride. If you find your mind wandering, there is a banquet of ornamental eye candy inside the gigantic letters spelling out "weird" on the stage. Alejandro Diaz's spasmodic arrangement of objets d'art inside a behemoth installation articulates in form various symbols of Austin and its inhabitants. From mannequin heads to Styrofoam water noodles to hubcaps and Lone Star beer cans, there is a distinctly South Austin aesthetic at work.

The show attempts to encapsulate the "weirdness" without bothering to define "weird." Somehow, meaning is established through anecdotes, social happenings, experiences at landmarks, and poignant observations. A few Austin personalities have multiple entries in the astonishingly stable narrative thread: Mayor Will Wynn (Robert Newell), Threadgill's owner Eddie Wilson (Les McGehee), writer Spike Gillespie (Lee Eddy), and, of course, the undeniably interesting pig owner, car artist, and real estate broker Aralyn Hughes, who plays more than herself. The full ensemble is stellar and mellifluously rolls the action along, with weird surprises popping up in unexpectedly silly ways.

Nearing the end, the show starts to seem like utopian fantasy without critically questioning historically horrendous events. Austin has a long way to go in cultural and economic equality. Thankfully, Weird approaches the subject of "dark weirdness" by exposing the recent APD shootings, I-35 racial divisions, and the bliss of being white in the heart of a Texas city, although it's neatly tied up with a literal bow at the conclusion. (One thing missing for this Austinite is a story on adrenaline rushes while jumping off cliffs at Lake Travis. I'm sure there are other Austin qualities that fellow "natives" may see as overlooked, but let's protect our smug secrets, okay?)

In the hallway outside the theatre space, a plethora of grand dramaturgy is on display. An Austin timeline with relevant dates spans centuries. It needs a dot on the edge indicating "You Are Here," just to put things in perspective. Austin will likely grow into an even bigger metropolis with more characters developed by its urbanized, changing geography and people. History happens, and memory collects its traces inside innumerable vaults of mind and spirit. What is most astounding in this production is how Steakley manages to grab a handful of tiny diamonds from these vaults to make one audaciously shimmering necklace to coo over.

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Dave Steakley, Keepin' It Weird, Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Alejandro Diaz, Will Wynn, Robert Newell, Threadgill's, Eddie Wilson, Les McGehee, Spike Gillespie, Lee Eddy, Aralyn Hughes

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